Divine and Demonic in the Poetic Mythology of the Zohar

The "Other Side" of Kabbalah


Nathaniel Berman’s Divine and Demonic in the Poetic Mythology of the Zohar: The “Other Side” of Kabbalah offers a new approach to the central work of Jewish mysticism, the Sefer Ha-Zohar (“Book of Radiance”). Berman explicates the literary techniques through which the Zohar constructs a mythology of intricately related divine and demonic personae. Drawing on classical and modern rhetorical paradigms, as well as psychoanalytical theories of the formation of subjectivity, Berman reinterprets the meaning of the Zohar’s divine and demonic personae, exploring their shared origins and their ongoing antagonisms and intimacies. Finally, he shows how the Zoharic portrayal of the demonic, the “Other Side,” contributes to reflecting on alterity of all kinds.
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Biographical Note

Nathaniel Berman (JD, PhD) holds the Rahel Varnhagen Chair at Brown University, where he teaches in the Religious Studies Department. He has published extensively on law’s relationship to nationalism, colonialism and religion, as well as on Jewish mysticism.

Table of contents

Prefatory Note

Introduction: Poetic Mythology for a Broken World
 I Otherness and Brokenness
 II A (Very Short) Kabbalistic Primer
 III Overview of the Book
 IV A Final Introductory Note

1 Demonic Writing: The Rhetoric and Ontology of Ambivalence
 I Demonic Fascination, Zoharic Writing and Zohar Scholarship
 II Texual Proliferation and Stylistic Audacity
 III The Rhetoric and Ontology of Ambivalence

2 A Divided Cosmos
 I Introduction: Ontological Splitting, Rhetorical Parallelism and Tropic Doubling
 II Modeling the Other Side: Geography, Essence, Structure
 III Reading the Other Side: Paradoxical Textuality
 IV The Rhetorical Construction of Splitting I: the Seductions of Schemes
 V The Rhetorical Construction of Splitting II: The Ambivalence of Tropes

3 The Formation of Self and Other through Abjection and Crystallization
 I Introduction
 II The Origin of the Demonic: Theological Concern and Mythic Narrative
 III “Dualism,” “Duality,” and the Proto-Divine
 IV From Catharsis to Abjection
 V Ambivalences of Origins
 VI Divine and Demonic: A Family Affair
 VII Ambivalences of Intimacy
 VIII Ambivalences of Sustenance: “Suckling”
 IX Epilogue: A Theurgical Parallel

4 Impersonating the Self, Collapsing into the Abyss: The Convergence of Horror and Redemption
 I Impersonation: Aggressive Enclothing and Ethopoeia
 II The Abyss

Conclusion: The Divine/Dunghill, or, the Self is the Other



Those interested in the Jewish mystical tradition generally (especially the Zohar), divine/demonic relations in mythology, religious-texts-as-literature, the relationship between rhetoric and ontology, and alterity in modern thought.